White House Helps Police Departments Cope With Their Image Problems

Although police shootings across the country have spawned a national debate about how law enforcement should interact with the communities they serve, the government has discovered it has very little data on policing patterns and the use of force.

To fix this problem, the White House announced on April 23 that 53 police departments have committed to an initiative designed to make local policing more transparent.

The commitments “represent concrete steps toward building trust” in local communities between citizens and police, and are a sign of a larger shift in the culture of community policing, the White House said in a statement.

The Police Foundation is partnering with the White House Police Data Initiative to open up information to the public and explain how the police department is working in dealing with shootings and arrests, community outreach and good policy.

“We are actually giving people data and letting them reach their own conclusions,” said James Burch, the Police Foundation vice president.

A key goal of this portal is to enable users to visualize and assess public safety problems in new ways or with new tools.

The data will be used not so much to show crime statistics but to show how police interact with the community in a positive way, Burch said.

While the relationship between public safety and public health is sometimes fairly direct (e.g., substance abuse, mental health), there are many opportunities in public safety to influence the relationship to public health challenges and opportunities, Burch said.

“What we are trying to do here is set up sustainable systems and sustainable communities so that over time this data transparency will hopefully lead to trust within the community,” said Clarence Wardell, a digital services expert at the White House. He made his comments during a White House event marking the one-year anniversary of the data program.

The White House said the 53 police jurisdictions oversee more than 41 million people, and to date more than 90 data sets have been released. The jurisdictions participating in the program come from many regions of the U.S., including major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

There is no data collected for the Federal or state level. The data is all local. The Police Foundation releases all data collected locally, according to Burch.

But the information allows the local public to see what’s up in their own communities. The foundation’s website provides a list of what’s available by location.

The initiative is part of the White House’s plans to open up information to the public and explain how the police department is working when it comes to arrests, fatal shootings, and good community outreach.

Two police groups, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation, are offering training programs to law enforcement agencies that want to learn about the data-sharing process.

The White House is not stopping there. The Obama administration is also planning to announce the creation of two new offices within the Department of Justice aimed at reforming police practices based on the data gathered through the initiative.

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